Apropos of yesterday’s post, Jonathan Kalb’s Hot Review recently posted the entirety of an 12 October 2001 interview with Richard Foreman, portions of which first ran in a 2002 issue of Theater magazine. In “Genuine Illusions of Our Times,” Foreman speaks at length about the events of 9/11 and their possible impact on art — both his own and others’. In the days after the World Trade Center event, there were several combative comments about the disaster from artists such as Karlheinz Stockhausen (“What happened there is … the biggest work of art there has ever been. The fact that spirits achieve with one act something which we in music could never dream of, that people practise ten years madly, fanatically for a concert. And then die. And that is the greatest work of art that exists for the whole Cosmos”) and Dario Fo. Foreman is somewhat more thoughtful.
The interviewer was Magda Romanska; a few excerpts from that interview below. I discussed some of Foreman’s post-2001 work here.
In an interview with Arthur Bartow you said of yourself that you are American to the soul, and that “American culture is adolescent culture. I feel that I’m an adolescent.” On your return from Europe, you said: “I have to come back and work out of the dumb, naïve openness that is a great strength of America, but which is very hard for me to accept.” Many critics suggest that September 11th marks the end of American innocence, that, in the words of one journalist “America’s sheltered life comes to an end.” Will American culture still be an adolescent culture? If it is so, what kind of adolescent culture will it be? And how do you think your adolescence will fit into it?
Okay. We ask, “Is this the end of American innocence? Did America¹s sheltered life come to its end?” I don’t think so. I think American pragmatism will persist, still wearing the blinders of a “bottom line” mentality unable to assimilate the nuances necessary to adult acceptance of a world of ambiguity and internal contradiction. I am totally sympathetic to the vast majority of Americans who are horrified by this event and want to do something about it, but that suggests no transcendence of adolescence. Americans are upset. Americans are talking about how it is going to be a different country from now on. But there have been previous traumas in America, and somehow we manage to absorb them — on a deep level they are forgotten. And I think that one adolescent aspect of the culture is the very asking of questions such as, “Will this change America forever?” The question is premature — an adolescent hunger for an immediate “fix” rather than an adult realization that we are forever and always in a state of insecure flux.
My question was more along the line of comparison between the European culture which was affected so much by its historical …
Well, since we’ve taken over the world, we’ve inherited the colonial empires of European cultures (through the Military Industrial Complex of which Eisenhower warned). We are the power — and power is ALWAYS corrupt and blind. And at this point, having done their own dirty work in the past — I think European cultures have, perhaps, a more mature understanding of what’s going on vis-à-vis those cultures. Not that we don’t have equally informed intellectuals and scholars in our “ivory tower” universities. But these mature minds are perhaps “able to understand” precisely because they have no real power. Those in power are always and forever (excepting occasional miracles) blind to the ways in which they themselves create situations which must give rise to evil people doing evil things. Such is the sad tragedy of life on this planet
Some commentators say we have reached the end of irony (and what follows, the end of comedy and laughter). Do you agree with this view? If not, what comedies will American playwrights write about September 11th? What role will laughter play in your theater?
As I respond to all these questions I feel a certain frustration building. Because if I somehow manage to be a courageous, strong person (laughs), well — I don’t think any of this should have any effect on either me or my work. I think there still should be irony in my theater. At rehearsals we have been making jokes amongst ourselves — black humor of the most intense variety — and I think that’s a healthy response. I think that my plays will continue to reflect my feeling that, alienated in the very midst of our society — I don’t “belong.” And since that alienation is the deep source of my artistic energy, when some outside force appears and performs some evil upon us, and we respond “as a group” — that only reinforces my sense that I do not belong. Now, people might say, “Ah, you do belong in spite of yourself, because you share the feelings of fear and upset with all your fellow Americans.” Well, not really. Because the event was so gigantic — of course, there is going to be a momentary emotional bond vis-à-vis that horrific event. But the minute I take the first step away from that event — deeper into thinking about that event or analyzing that event, immediately I again realize that my take on it, after the initial psychic and psychological shock, is different from many other people in my society. So, I still feel like I don’t belong, even if in a partial sense I do. But isn’t this the inevitable position of the artist?
Most theater (which I reject) in some way or other spotlights our daily passions and concerns in order to make us feel that such normal involvement and commitment to the things of our life are indeed the “most important matters at hand.” But the art I am hungry for (perhaps this has been the role of the avant-garde) manages to imply that everything that seems important in our lives is merely “chatter.” Life itself simply makes use of our passions and commitments, so that something else, some other energy or rhythm, rolls on regardless of our plans and belief systems — most of the time even outside our conscious awareness. But this “radical” kind of art, through style and tone, gives a glimpse or intuition of that “totally other” realm — producing the aesthetic/ecstatic response — a brief flash of lightning. It’s for this reason that I believe, finally, that the “event” — horrible and inescapable — is yet strangely irrelevant to the always secret life of art, which is not really tuned to our daily turmoil, but merely uses that turmoil as the self-hypnotizing chatter — the potential fertilizer — of an evolution we can only intuit.